App of the Week – Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies


Developer: Fireaxis Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad 2 , iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here

There’s just something about strategy games on touch screen platforms that’s so satisfying. Controlling armies or deciding the fate of civilizations in this genre is always a good time to be sure, but when you add the touch element it makes you feel the role of commander or leader like no other game on any other format possibly can.

It’s an advantage that can lend a critical entertainment boost to even the most mediocre of mobile strategy games, which unfortunately many strategy app developers seem to be increasingly aware of. As much as I love the average mobile strategy game, there does seem to be a complacency sinking into the genre that makes every new encounter with one of these games increasingly less and less thrilling.

Into that scenario enters the legendary Sid Meier (the man behind the “Civilization” series) and Fireaxis Games who’ve not only developed many of those “Civilization” titles, but the recent strategy phenomenon known as “XCOM: Enemy Unknown.” With them, comes “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies,” the follow up to the successful “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol.”

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Moving the game’s venue from WWI to WWII, “Pacific Skies” gives you the option of choosing either the American Navy and Army, or the Japanese Navy and Army to command. In either case, the actual gameplay works largely the same, as you try to wipe the enemy off the map, while leveling up your soldiers and avoiding enemy encampment trap areas. Breaking down every in and out of the gameplay would be a lengthy exercise in tedium, but basically as far as general objective goes, little more is asked than to successfully command your troops in combat using a pretty versatile, largely grid based troop movement system

What’s more important than what’s in the game, though, are the various things that aren’t. By removing many resource gathering and base building elements from the average strategy game and focusing solely on the command of troops and vehicles, Fireaxis has stumbled upon the perfect formula for a mobile strategy game. Whereas removing those traditional elements could have made the game feel overly simplified, here there is so much creativity put into the ins and outs of the combat system, and so much work put into making the enemy A.I. a genuine challenge, that all the strategy you could ever want comes through the action and the action alone. It’s incredibly rewarding to play a strategy game that cuts right to the action, but doesn’t feel watered down in the slightest by doing so.

Rewarding is overall the best way to describe “Pacific Skies.” There are no easily won battles here, yet the game so expertly manages all of the elements that go into a combat scenario that you never once feel burdened or overwhelmed by what’s happening. Instead you are given just the right level of challenge to compel you to keep going at all times. You can’t understate how importance that balance of difficulty v.s. reward is in these types of games, nor can you understate the level of satisfaction that comes from experiencing a game that gets it right like “Pacific Skies” does.

“Pacific Skies” may be most easy to recommend to strategy fans and those that have lost weekends absorbed in the History channel, but honestly everyone who enjoys mobile gaming should have at least one strategy game on their device, and considering the absolutely perfect balance of brain teasing and instant gratification “Pacific Skies” off, it’s the one to get even if you usually shy away from these types of games. This is quite honestly one of the most complete app games out there, and the clear app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Aereo

Developer: Aereo

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 4.2

Price: Free ($8 a month subscription fee for service required)

Available: here

It’s not a huge surprise that one of the more popular demands in the world of technology is for people to have easier access to their favorite content for far less money, but it is interesting that there are a number of programs and companies out there providing just that. Steam does it for games, Spotify does it for songs, Netflix does it for DVD’s, and a growing company called Aereo is proposing to do it for live TV.

Of those Aereo is by far the least established, but among the most desired. More and more people are ditching their cable services, but there is still a strong desire to have access to basic television content (like sports) that keep a large number of subscribers paying more than they should for the content they actually watch. Aereo proposes, as an alternative, that you pay them $8 a month to have both live and DVR access to all the major basic cable networks, along with a growing number of preminum cable channels online. Available only in America, and largely on the East Coast, they might not have the coverage they’ll need to accomplish that goal quite yet, but the service they offer is very legitimate, and quite effective.

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And now thanks to a public beta, you can download Aereo and have access to it on your android mobile device.  It’s the same service as you get through the Aereo website (and there is no additional fee to use the app), but it’s easy to see how the ability to stream live TV legally and for extremely cheap is much more appealing on the go than it is in the home. That’s especially true once you factor in the DVR capabilities the app retains, as you can pause, record, and save programs from your device as well.

A perfect companion to Netflix and Spotify, Aereo may just find its calling on the mobile market, especially for football fans who can never find themselves at home on a Sunday. While it needs a lot more channels to be considered a real threat to cable, the fact that you are able to get the most basic channels plus a few more for a cost that is more in-line with the content you’ll actually use than cable, suggests that this is a program that is on to something big, and might soon become the best friend to the growing number of people who’ve cancelled their cable and occasionally lament the decision.

Be sure to check if you have access to the beta (not all devices are compatible at this time) and if you are in Aereo’s market, but if so then it’s pretty easy to recommend the service, especially since the first month is free. Even in it’s clearly un-finished state, it provides a desirable product in an effective manner and deserves to be given a shot by anyone who occasionally wishes to have access to television as they know it at home while on the go. It remains to be seen if it can join the ranks of similar services and re-shape how we watch TV, but even as it stands now Aereo is certainly the app of the week.

  

App(s) of the Week: Dead Trigger 2 and Indigo Lake

Dead Trigger 2

Developer: Madfinger Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 7.0, Android 4.0

Price: Free

Available: here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

Indigo Lake

Developer: 3 Cubes Research

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $1.99

Available: here

Perhaps it is my lifelong fondness for horror movies, or the strange joy of sharing scares with your fellow man, but I’ve always loved Halloween to the point where it runs neck and neck with Christmas for my favorite holiday of the year. Naturally then I sought out the best horror app I could find to honor the holiday, but ran into a bit of a problem when I ran across two worthy candidates. Rather than just give one a mention and highlight the other, I’ve decided to break the format a bit and present two horror gaming apps of different styles, but equal worth.

“Dead Trigger 2” is the sequel to the notorious mobile zombie FPS game “Dead Trigger,” and as the title may suggest, does little to stray from the template that series established. In other words, you’re still shooting a variety of zombies with a plethora of weapons, all while gawking at some of the best mobile graphics this side of “Infinity Blade.” There are some changes to be found here, including an optional button free control schematic (it works pretty well actually), and a much more varied mission structure, but for the most part you’re still just wandering around and mowing down zombies.

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That may sound like a knock, but it’s actually far from it. The original “Dead Trigger” found a niche in the mobile market by being a shooter that didn’t feel too far removed from its larger and more technically capable console brethren. It’s a role carried on by “Dead Trigger 2” which may make a host of technical and gameplay improvements implemented to make the game a smoother experience all around, but do nothing to hamper the core mechanics which made this game so much fun in the first place. The brilliant thing about the action in this game is that it’s the one place that actually acknowledges any sort of need to be limited by the mobile platform. It resorts, then, to a more classical style FPS which was all action, all the time, and feels like a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s becoming more and more tactical and cinematic based. There’s a cinematic quality to “Dead Trigger 2” to be sure, but it only serves to provide a loose justification and reasoning for shooting everything in sight.

“Dead Trigger 2” strikes a rare balance in mimicking the benefits of console gaming while taking advantage of mobile gaming’s capabilities to provide an experience that feels ambitious yet simple, and never fails to be fun. Fun is actually the key here, as while “Dead Trigger 2” makes some tremendous strides in giving the series depth, ultimately they’re really superfluous  when weighed against the game’s true job of throwing wave after wave of horror at you, and leting you shoot your way out of it, which it does with twisted levels of joy and ease.

“Indigo Lake” is a horror game of a different tune. While “Dead Trigger 2” used it’s horror as a backdrop for some classic shoot em’ up gameplay, “Indigo Lake” is a more pure horror game that ventures into the rarely successfully explored area of psychological horror. In it you play a paranormal investigator sent to solve a string of suicides in a small town. Fairly ambitiously, you do this in an open world setting which you’re able to explore on foot and in-vehicle. You’re objectives in this environment are pre-defined, but the manner and order in which you approach them is yours to decide.

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Many horror games require intense structure to place their scares in, which “Indigo Lake” abandons in favor of a more open, yet carefully restrained experience. While you do have a gun in the game, it’s used sparingly as instead you’ll spend most of your time solving puzzles and trying not to jump out of your skin as you slowly unravel the specifics of what is going on. The way the game never reveals it’s full hand at once turns out to be one of its great attributes, as you spend more time waiting on the big scares to happen, as opposed to experiencing them. This lends the rest of the game an intense feeling of dread and unease which is absolutely perfect for a murder mystery, as you never really feel comfortable or confident while playing until you reach your next big break (even then the empowerment is usually momentary). “Indigo Lake” is a horror game for the patient user then, making it the polar opposite of “Dead Trigger 2,” and an interesting companion piece as well.

To go much further into the game would run the risk of spoiling it, so I’ll stop by saying that those who are both patient and brave enough to stick with it despite the well played series of scares implemented to ward you off will find a game that manages to serve as a rare example of physiological horror done well, and therefore a unique horror game not just on the mobile scene, but in all of gaming.

There you have it. Two horror games which may take wildly different paths within the genre, but find an equal level of success in their endeavors. For the people that want to feel like Rambo in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, there is “Dead Trigger 2.” For those who want something closer to an episode of the “X-Files,” there is the brilliant “Indigo Lake.” If you’re a true horror fan though, I highly recommend both as they not only serve as the perfect primers for Halloween, but exhibit enough quality to be worth a play any time of the year, and are therefore equally worthy of being recognized as app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Launch Center Pro

Developer: Contrast

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here 

As much as smartphones help us in our daily lives, they are not perfect. While some of their imperfections can be traced back to the person using them (everyone wave, that’s us!), one of the biggest flaws of most models is their navigational structure. Phone manufacturers can do everything on their end to help make getting around the phone as painless as possible, but once you load it up with apps, contacts, and everything else in your world, it gets more and more difficult to smoothly get around to everything you need to do, with most applications requiring you to navigate several screens just to get where you’re going.

Some time ago, a developer named Contrast made an app that solves that issue called “Launch Center Pro.” It’s described as a speed dial for your phone’s various applications as it allows you to quick map various functions to a grid for one press use. For instance, let’s say you want to send a text to your girlfriend. Instead of having to open your contacts, find her, choose to send a text, then send the text, you can map a function to the grid which allows you to automatically start composing a text to her with just the press of a button.

That’s really just a small example of the app’s potential though, as the further you get into “Launch Center,” the more you discover what it is capable of. Essentially it gives you the nearly complete ability to jump instantly to any function you can think of. Always looking for new bars or restaurants in whatever area you’re in through Google Maps? Just make a shortcut that searches bars and restaurants using Google Maps instantly. Tired of having to virtually navigate your Twitter feed or Facebook page to get to once specific section? Just make a shortcut to it and get there instantly.

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It’s often described as the perfect app for “power” phone users, who use their phones like most people use oxygen, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. While the hardcore phone user will certaintly get the most out of everything offered through this app, and explore its various nuances and sub functions to point they will be able to use just this program to have one tap access to nearly everything, even a casual user will no doubt be able to think of a few immediate ways this app can benefit them, with more coming once the considerable abilities of this app enter your mindset and you start factoring it into everything you do.

As mentioned, this app was first released a while ago, but only recently came out with its 2.0 model that was designed for iOS 7 in mind. That means many of the improvements are cosmetic in order to take advantage of the new interface (the ability to use real photos and custom icons for every function is a nice example), but one of the more substantial new features which allows you to set and swap between saved grid templates greatly expands the functionality and potential of “Launch Center Pro” in a way that again may benefit the most adapt of users more, but remains a useful ability to keep stored to the side even if you don’t immediately get the most out of it.

“Launch Center Pro” is an app all about discovery. It’s about not only discovering what the app is capable of once installed, but also discovering what your phone is now capable of when you can trim the interface fat and streamline it’s functions in a way that focuses more on your personal uses for your device, rather than the manufacturer’s idea, or the developers idea. Just about everyone that uses “Launch Center Pro” later comments that it is a staple on their home screen, which is fitting considering that it’s essentially a second home button that accesses your own unique interface.

Many of the apps covered here are highly recommended, or even must have. “Launch Center Pro,” however, is essential. It directly advances user interface in a logical way, and executes its lofty idea with such ease that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple (and other manufacturers) incorporate something similar very soon now that the template for how a program like this should work, has been quite simply honed to perfection. To use “Launch Center Pro” is to never go back to any other way to use your phone, which is a surefire indication of it being app of  the week.

  

App of the Week: Pocket Trains

Developer: NimbleBit

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 6.0, Android 2.2

Price: Free

Available: here (For iOS) and here (for Android)

Did you know that video game technology has become so advance that we are able to use it to make the most mundane activities exciting? From punching trees in “Minecraft” to driving trucks across Europe in “Euro Truck Simulator,” it seems like there is nothing a capable developer can’t turn into compelling subject matter.

While managing a series of trains, railways, and cargo has been on that list for a while thanks to a surprisingly strong amount of train simulator games, developer Nimblebit presents maybe the most compelling example of the idea with “Pocket Trains,” the next in their line of incredibly addictive series of games that focus on micromanaging a specific set up (for example their airline manager “Pocket Planes”).

“Pocket Trains” doesn’t deviate from the formula set in the studio’s previous games much, but it does manage to almost perfect it. You start off with a couple of trains and a few railways available to you in Europe, which you use to deliver a variety of, often wacky, cargo from city to city. Completing a run awards you points and cash which are used on everything from purchasing new parts to build more trains, upgrading current trains to be more efficient, and buying new railways to connect your available cities and expand your cargo empire all over the world.

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There’s a variety of additional gameplay elements such as challenges which provide additional rewards upon completion, along with an RPG like level system that also rewards you as you advance, and while thy are very welcome, the real draw is the addictiveness of the core gameplay. It’s actually quite difficult to build a functional railway system, mostly due to the fact you that each individual train can only occupy certain lines (unless you buy a line out each time which gets costly) meaning that you have to strategize the use of railways and hub cities to maximize your best trains potential. Despite those complexities, the very basics of the game are so simple that learning the deeper ins and outs never feels like a chore, and rather extends the gameplay naturally.

Put it all together and you’ve got a game that manages to achieve that rare balance between being brain teasing and easy to pick up and play, that could only come from years of honing this style of game to perfection. You may initially pick this up as a curiosity or because you subscribe to the “what the hell it’s free” school of app downloads, but just know that doing so is the equivalent to signing hours of your free time away building a railroad empire that dominates the globe.

Most mobile games have to choose between being something perfect for short sessions and killing time, or going for something deeper that asks for hours and hours of your time to truly appreciate. That “Pocket Trains” manages to seamlessly combine both of those game types into an experience that is near impossible to put down is a feat that can’t be overlooked. You may not think “Pocket Trains” sounds like it has much potential, but it will crush your reservations and pull out of the station with your free time, along with the title of app of the week.

  

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